It once had a down-at-heel reputation. Mention Albert Road, in Southsea, about a decade ago and the review would not have been favourable.
But thanks to a successful re-branding exercise – coupled with a popular music festival – and today it is filled with independent traders, boutiques, antique shops, pubs, cafes, restaurants, hairdressers, and much more.
With well-loved regular events, such as the live music festival Southsea Fest and Celebration of Christmas Lights Festival, the street has a real community feel to it.
And it’s that feeling which brings people of all ages to Albert Road to spend their hard-earned cash.
As sales falls in shops throughout the country and stores continue to shut their doors, traders on the vibrant Southsea street say they’re bucking the trend and have actually noticed an increase in footfall.
Shops are opening rather than closing and 200 of the 212 business units on the street are in use – that’s an impressive 94 per cent.
New business owner Charlotte Edwards, who has just opened King’s Groomers, near the Kings Theatre, says it was the unique charm of the street which made her select it as the location for her business.
She said: ‘There’s something special about Albert Road. It’s such a friendly place.
‘All the other shop owners have been in to say hello and welcome me to the street, it’s so nice.
‘I grew up in Portsmouth and I’ve always loved coming down here, it’s just so different to anywhere else.
‘The shops are all independent so you know you can get something a bit quirky that you won’t be able to get on the high street.
‘When I thought about opening a business I knew straight away I wanted it to be on Albert Road because I knew we would fit in well with what was already here.’
But it’s not just what’s inside the shops that makes Albert Road stand out.
Many of the businesses are decorated on the outside with murals or unusual items, such as the old bicycles that jut out from The Wine Valts or the golden dog statue that stands on the roof of Parmiters Antiques.
Ian Parmiter, who owns Parmiters Antiques, said: ‘There’s a great buzz about Albert Road at the moment – people just love the bohemian atmosphere down here.
‘It’s unique and original, and there’s something to look at everywhere you go.
‘We also have the right balance of shops and pubs down here.
‘When the pubs are busy it improves our passing trade, even if they’re busy at night because people see things they like in the window.’
He added: ‘There’s not much we could really do to improve Albert Road in the future because it kind of looks after itself.
‘It’s organic and has developed into what it is now on its own.
‘To try to force change and tell it what to do would just spoil it.’
In the past members of Albert Road Traders’ Association have fought off suggestions to introduce parking permits on nearby residential roads and to remove its two-hour free on-street parking.
Chairwoman Jenni Catlow believes this is key to the success of the area, along with its community feel and the mixture of the business which together cater for all generations.
Jenni, who owns Tango Tea Collectables, said: ‘Albert Road is the heart of Southsea. It’s where all the community comes to live, work and play.
‘We have something for everyone here. There are modern shops for the young ones, antique shops for the oldies and retro shops for the in-betweeners.
‘Then you have all the pubs and live music events that waken up the road at night and give the place its unique character.
‘Shops are closing down everywhere else but our business is growing and nearly all the shops down here are full so we must be doing something right.’
In a bid to improve the community feel on the street, the businesses often pull together to organise events on the street which help bring more customers to the area and boost their trade.
The next one to take place is the Celebration of Christmas Lights Festival, on December 1 in the Lighthouse Cafe.
Children at Southsea Infants School, on Albert Road, have designed Christmas bunting and decorations which will be hung inside the venue and a number of local dance groups and musicians will perform at the event.
The festival, which is in its fourth year running, is organised by Albert Road Traders’ Association, and is supported by Portsmouth City Council.
Colin Walker, district centres co-ordinator for the council, said: ‘This is a small indoor celebration event which is organised entirely by businesses in the area.
‘It’s their way of giving something back to the community and to their customers and just having a bit of fun at the same time.
‘Events like this are exactly why Albert Road is so successful – because it does a lot of things other traders wouldn’t even think about.’
Portsmouth City Council plans install a new public art sculpture at the entrance to Albert Road.
It will be made out of glass and steel, in April of next year as part of its on-going project to regenerate the city.
FRATTON ROAD AND THE BRIDGE SHOPPING CENTRE
WHILE Albert Road is thriving, just one mile away traders on Fratton Road, in Fratton, say they are struggling.
In September it was reported that 31 per cent of Fratton’s business units were unused after research carried out by The Local Data Company was revealed.
Portsmouth City Council disputed these claims, saying the retail data firm used old figures.
Having recently carried out its own research, the council says that 96 of the 104 available shop units on Fratton Road, from St Mary’s Church to Fratton Bridge, were occupied – giving a 92 per cent occupancy level.
But three out of the eight vacant units came under the Bridge Centre, and nearby traders say these shops all closed within five weeks of each other.
Nick Willmott, who has owned Coffee Cake opposite the Bridge Centre for two years, said: ‘The high street is going down, it’s in desperate need of regeneration.
‘The shops across the road have all shut down and we’re just not getting the trade in any more.
‘I’m about £50 a day down on last year – that’s £350 a week. It’s a lot of money.
‘The recession has hit us all and people are just not spending down here any more, but it’s not a very affluent area so I have to keep my prices low.
‘Something need to be done to bring more customers to the area, like a bank or a high street store like TK Maxx or Primark, or we’ll all end up closing down.’
Trevor Corps, who has owned Bike Business on Fratton Road for 27 years, said: ‘Fratton was fantastic when I first opened the shop here. It was busy and all the shops were full.
‘But the council killed that when they introduced parking charges and it’s never recovered. It costs less to park in London than it does to park here so one comes here anymore.
‘About 80 per cent of my trade is online now because people just aren’t coming into the shop. So much so that I think that this will be another empty unit soon.’